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Israel's plan to dismantle Turkish influence in Jerusalem for the benefit of Gulf states

A ray of light hits the Dome of the Rock Mosque as a dust storm covers the Jerusalem skyline on December 17, 2009 [GALI TIBBON/AFP via Getty Images]
A ray of light hits the Dome of the Rock Mosque as a dust storm covers the Jerusalem skyline on December 17, 2009 [GALI TIBBON/AFP via Getty Images]

In light of the ongoing wave of normalisation agreements between Arab states and the occupation, Israel is trying to lure Gulf countries, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, with a potential role in supervising the holy sites in occupied Jerusalem. Thus, competing with Jordan and the Palestinians to take over this important task.

Israel's move in this direction sparked political tension between the involved parties, while camouflaging its real plan that consists of giving these countries a new role and an opportunity to contest the escalating Turkish influence among Jerusalemites – a demarche that raises questions about the success or failure of the Israeli endeavour.

It seems that the normalisation plan between the UAE and the occupation is in a race against time to set up a new reality on the ground, as Israeli Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Rabbi Rafi Peretz announced a plan to attract thousands of Emirati tourists to visit Jerusalem. The plan aims to enhance the city's status as "the capital of Israel", as he claims.

It has become clear that the Israeli plan to bring tourists from the UAE, and seeking to attract two million Muslim tourists to Jerusalem annually, is in line with what the occupation has been working to achieve for the last ten years. It is part of an attempt to subject Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque to its alleged sovereignty and evacuate it in order to prevent Jerusalemites from developing a national religious tourism sector, and control the holy mosque and its squares.

The Israeli plan stems from the text of the Emirati-Israeli agreement, as it grants Muslims the right to Al-Aqsa Mosque only, and denies them the rest of Temple Mount as a whole. This is in light of a Palestinian political and religious condemnation that rejects receiving any Emirati, Arab, or even Muslim, visitors to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque as part of the aforementioned agreement.

The Jerusalemites were the first to announce their rejection of the Israel-UAE normalisation agreement, as it stipulated the right of all monotheistic religions, taking exclusivity away from Muslims. This lead to indignation being sparked among the Palestinians, who expressed this repudiation by hanging large banners throughout Jerusalem.

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The Israeli plan uncovers the depth of the normalisation agreement with the UAE. The idea to sponsor Emirati trips to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque is a mere cover-up for the normalisation plan, even though prayer in Jerusalem does not need agreements. It is a sacred religious and legal right, just as Al-Aqsa Mosque is a reserved right to Muslims according to all religions and international documents. Most notably, UNESCO's recognition of Al-Aqsa Mosque as an absolute property of Muslims, with no affiliation to the Jews. The UAE, however, chose to grant the Israelis this agreement – a right to which they are not entitled.

The Jerusalemites are preparing to receive those who will come to Jerusalem under the cloak of normalisation the way they deserve. No Palestinian will allow the Emiratis and others to violate the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque by using prayers there to legitimise their null agreement with Israel. Therefore, the people of Jerusalem will not welcome these visits amid concerns in Jerusalem and Palestine, in general, of a possibly growing number of Muslim tourists, especially from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, who may come to pray in Jerusalem under Emirati pressure and temptations.

The new plan goes hand-in-hand with the Israel-UAE agreement to host two million Muslim tourists in the occupation state annually, most of whom will visit Al-Aqsa Mosque within the framework of so-called "religious peace". Despite the fact that 98,000 Muslim tourists visited Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque in 2018, Israel has started arranging for the arrival of tourists from the Emirates and other Gulf states to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The Palestinians believe that the Israeli plan will fail, as the Emiratis may not come in large numbers, perhaps due to the clash between the official and popular positions on normalisation in the UAE. The UAE tourists will not be in their hundreds or thousands. Thus, the Emirati demarche in Jerusalem was preceded by a Saudi plan to communicate with Jerusalemite personalities in order to secure a foothold in the city, but the Jerusalemites refused to go to the kingdom.

In conjunction with the announcement of the Israeli plan to bring Emirati tourists to Jerusalem, Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem revealed that the UAE had agreed for the first time to change the status quo in Al-Aqsa Mosque, allowing Jews to pray there, while limiting the Muslims' access to the mosque only, and not to the entire Temple Mount. Hence, the Israeli plan affirms the recent UAE agreement regarding Al-Aqsa Mosque, which raises concerns and fears in the Jordanian and Palestinian endowments. This is because the agreement aims to give the UAE a new role inside Al-Aqsa Mosque that overtly contests the Jordanian and Palestinian presence as the main supervisors of the city's holy sites.

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Perhaps the Jerusalemites' main concern centres on the UAE's negative record, especially after the Emiratis attempted to sell the houses and real estate they bought from the Palestinians to the Jewish settlement associations. This raises the Palestinians' fear that the next stage might signal the start of building the alleged synagogue with the contribution of the UAE authorities, who already constructed a Hindu temple in Dubai and opened a synagogue in Abu Dhabi.

At the same time, Israel did not hesitate to talk about taking all measures to eradicate Turkish activities in Jerusalem, claiming that the days of the Ottoman Empire are over and that Turkey has nothing to look for in Jerusalem, while suggesting that Turkish President Erdogan's declaration that Jerusalem belongs to all Muslims is exaggerated and baseless. However, what angers the Palestinians is news about the Saudi-Jordanian support of the plan orchestrated by the occupation.

Although the Turkish projects in Jerusalem are of a charitable, economic nature because Israel prohibits any political activity in the city, Turkey's presence in the scene irked the Israelis and Arab countries that seek to enhance its influence in Jerusalem. This includes Jordan and Saudi Arabia, given that any increase in the Turkish influence in the city may narrow their powers and religious guardianship over the holy sites there, even though Jerusalem is a general cause for all Muslims, not just the Arabs or the Palestinians.

The occupation's plan is motivated by the fact that the Turkish influence among the Jerusalemites has worried security and political officials in Israel for years, as Turkish flags and restaurants can be seen in many locations in the city. On the other hand, Turkey has become a favourite destination for tens of thousands of Jerusalem's citizens in recent years.

Information about the Israeli plan against Turkish activities in Jerusalem indicates that there is a consensus between the various Israeli decision-making circles on the belief that Turkey's presence threatens Israel's national security. Thus, the occupation state may risk pouring more fuel on the fire of already existing tensions between Ankara and Tel Aviv over several thorny files.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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